How-To

High Five with Michelle Latimer of Michelle Latimer Dance Academy

Michelle Latimer Dance Academy, located in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, has collected countless awards on the competition circuit over the past 19 years. Successful alumni include Kayla Radomski of “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 5.

 

You started taking your students to competition the year you opened your studio. Why so soon?

I wanted them to get performance experience, and aside from recitals and local shows, competition was the only venue we had. It’s a great forum for the dancers to express themselves onstage, and it pushes them to the next level. When the dancers know they’re going to be adjudicated in front of their peers, they push harder during the year to be their best. The winning isn’t the most important thing—it’s about the growth. We do well at competition and that’s great, but for the dancers it’s about improving and performing.

 

What keeps your dancers motivated throughout the year?

Every year in October I take my senior company to L.A. The dancers spend an entire week taking classes at EDGE Performing Arts Center and Millennium Dance Complex. They take up to 20 classes, and when they return to the studio at the end of the week they’re reinspired, ready to push harder and show the younger dancers what they learned.

 

How do you work with guest choreographers?

I bring in at least two guest artists every year: Jason Parsons and Dee Caspary. Jason comes for a whole week and sets choreography on my teen and senior companies. He also gives workshop classes all week long. I bill the dancers extra for these workshops. Dancers audition for the competition piece, and if selected, they are charged an additional choreography fee. The choreography fee varies depending on the number of dancers (i.e., the fewer the dancers in the piece, the higher the share is for each dancer). I videotape the rehearsals and take tons of notes, but once the guest choreographer is gone, I don’t change any of the choreography. We continue rehearsing it, but nothing gets changed. The dancers look forward to training with a guest artist, and the parents see it as a special learning opportunity. I also tell my students that if they want to have professional dance careers, these are the people who may employ them in the future.

 

What is your process for cleaning routines?

First the dancers mark the routine to the music and I pay attention to their musicality. I want to see that they’re on the music and can really hear it. Then they do it full-out once and I take notes on how the piece looks overall. From there, we start breaking the routine down from the beginning, count by count. We make sure every move for every count matches. If one person is off, I’ll stop and say, “OK, you’re wrong on this part. Let’s fix it.” I also talk to the dancers about their focus and intention with each move. I ask them what they’re thinking about while they’re doing it. We’ll clean two 8-counts step-by-step, then do that much full-out. We’ll slowly add on 8-counts one at a time. It’s a slow process, but it’s more effective than just having the dancers run the routine over and over. That exhausts them and the choreography starts to look sloppy.

 

What is the secret to your studio’s success?

It all comes down to the dancers loving what they do and inspiring each other. I talk to them about being their best, but I also tell them they have to acknowledge greatness in other people. When we’re at competitions or conventions and they see something they love, they go nuts for it. I love that—they’re confident in their own abilities, so when they see other people, they’re inspired by them, not threatened. They know that it’s not about competition between dancers. I tell them that another dancer’s greatness doesn’t detract from their greatness.

 

Photo by Richard Harrison, courtesy of Michelle Latimer Dance Academy

How-To

Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico's School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 3- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.

Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Todd Rosenlieb, left, of The Governor's School for the Arts. Photo by Victor Frailing, courtesy of Todd Rosenlieb

You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?

Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

Next Page
How-To
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored